Chermoula Marinated Lamb with Wilted Spring Greens

Culinary travel from the comfort of your kitchen: Moroccan Chermoula Lamb.

Chermoula Marinated Lamb with Wilted Spring Greens
In honor of Easter and Spring – I share this roasted lamb recipe. Mind you, this is not your traditional springtime lamb roast studded with garlic and served with mint (which is always a good option, of course). Instead, this roast veers to North Africa with a generous smear of chermoula, a heady concoction of aromatic spices, fresh herbs, chiles, and garlic. Consider it Easter break on holiday from the comfort of your kitchen – a spring fling for culinary travelers.

What is Chermoula?
Chermoula is a flavorful and versatile condiment in Moroccan, Libyan, and Tunisian cuisines. It’s used as a marinade and garnish for fish, meats, and vegetables, and it can also be swirled into rice and couscous dishes. Recipes for chermoula vary from region to region and cook to cook, but the gist is to use fistfuls of fresh green herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, and mint, and plenty of spice, such as cumin and coriander. While it’s a long list of ingredients, it’s easily blitzed in a food processor in just a few minutes. The end result should be bright, sharp, and aromatic with a kick of heat. Ideally, toast and grind whole spices for best flavor, but pre-ground spices will do just fine.

Moroccan Chermoula Lamb

In this recipe, the meat is served over a platter of spring greens, lightly dressed with lemon and olive oil. Choose a selection of sturdy greens that are a mix of bitter, peppery, and sweet. The cooking juices from the lamb will slightly wilt the leaves, for a refreshing contrast that mirrors the season. And, for best flavor results, begin marinating the lamb the night before roasting. Goodness knows, we have the time for that right now. Stay well, friends!

Lamb Chermoula with Wilted Spring Greens

Active Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 hours
Marinating Time: 24 hours, plus 1 hour standing time
Serves 6 to 8

Chermoula:
5 cloves garlic
1 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley sprigs
1 cup cilantro sprigs
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed

1 (5 to 6 pound) semi-boneless leg of lamb, fat trimmed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 cups mixed spring greens such as frisée, mustard greens, mizuna, arugula
1 small handful mint leaves, coarsely torn
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley and/or cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

  1. Begin marinating the lamb one day before serving. Place all of the chermoula ingredients, except the olive oil, in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to coarsely chop. Add the oil and process to blend. The chermoula should have a runny paste consistency. If needed, add a little more oil to achieve this consistency.
  2. Place the lamb in a large bowl and season on all sides with salt and black pepper. Rub the chermoula all over the lamb. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. One hour before grilling, remove the lamb from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature.
  3. Heat the oven to 425°F.
  4.  Roast the lamb for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F. Cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat (not touching the bone) reaches 135°F for medium-rare, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the size of the lamb. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for at least 15 minutes to allow the juices to collect.
  5. While the lamb is resting, place the greens, mint, and parsley in a large bowl. Drizzle with the oil and lemon juice. Sprinkle the lemon zest over, lightly season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.
  6. Carve the lamb into 1/2-inch thick slices. Spread the greens on a serving platter. Arrange the lamb in the center. Drizzle any collected lamb juices over the meat and greens and scatter the pine nuts over. Serve warm.

Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Lamb Chops

A little magic mushroom dust does wonders to your meat (not that kind of mushroom, silly):

Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Lamb Chops Recipe

You want these mushrooms – namely dried porcini mushrooms – in your kitchen. They keep indefinitely in your pantry, and can easily be reconstituted for use with pasta, risotto, soups, and sauces. Or you can simply blitz the heck out of them and turn them into dust.

Porcini mushroom dust is a magical elixir, fragrant with umami-rich aroma and flavor, and a gorgeous ingredient to add to rubs and marinades. Its earthy smoky flavor melds beautifully with garlic and herbs, such as rosemary and thyme, and is an excellent complement to meats, such as beef and lamb, when used as a rub.

While dried porcini mushrooms are pricey by the pound, the good news is that you don’t need a lot to make this rub – all you need is a half-ounce. When the mushrooms are dried, their flavor intensifies, so a little goes a long way. Other dried mushrooms, such as shiitakes, may be substituted, but in terms of flavor, the porcini is best. I use a spice grinder to blitz the mushrooms before mixing them with the rub ingredients, for a pasty consistency. If you don’t have a spice grinder, you can use a mini-food processor, with slightly coarser, results.

Note: If the dried mushrooms are slightly spongy and not entirely crisp before grinding, then cut them into 1/2-inch pieces, spread on a small baking tray, and place in a 300°F oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and cool to room temperature before grinding.

Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Lamb Loin Chops

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes, plus 20 minutes drying time if needed
Serves 4

1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 lamb loin chops, each about 1-inch thick

1. Finely grind the mushrooms in a spice grinder. Transfer to a small bowl and add 3 tablespoons oil, the rosemary, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper and stir to blend.
2. Coat the lamb on all sides with the rub and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat in a large ovenproof skillet. Add the lamb to the pan without overcrowding. Cook until brown on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook to your desired doneness, about 8 to 10 minutes for medium-rare. Remove from the oven, tent with foil, and let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Braised Lamb Meatballs with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce and Feta

 – It’s a Meatball Time of Year –

Recipe for Lamb Meatballs with Feta

When the weather is cold, wet, and snowy, nothing is more comforting than a platter of comforting meatballs, browned and braised in a fragrant and spicy tomato sauce. These meatballs take inspiration from my two favorite types of meatball, a Moroccan lamb kefta and an Italian meatball, and roll them into a spicy and oh-so satisfying dish. In this recipe, the ground lamb is seasoned with North African spices, and each ball is filled with a nugget of feta cheese nestling in the center. After a quick browning in a skillet, they are popped into the oven to braise and finish cooking in a blanket of roasted tomato-pepper sauce infused with spices and a kick of heat, harissa-style. It may be chilly outside, but these meatballs will surely warm you up.

Braised Lamb Meatballs

Braised Lamb Meatballs with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce and Feta

Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, plus 1 hour chilling time
Makes about 20 meatballs and 2 1/2 cups sauce; Serves 4 to 6

Sauce:
1 (14.5-ounce) can fire roasted tomatoes with juices
1 (12-ounce) jars roasted peppers, drained
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons ground chili paste, such as sambal olek
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Meatballs:
2 pounds ground lamb
1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
2 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces feta, cut into 1/3-inch cubes, plus 1/4 cup, crumbled, for garnish
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or mint leaves

1. Combine the sauce ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process to blend.
2. Combine all of the meatball ingredients, except the feta, in a bowl. Using your hands, gently mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed.
3. Shape the meat into 1 1/2 inch balls. Make a small indentation in the centers with your thumb and insert a feta cube, then close the meat around to seal it. Place the meatballs on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
4. Heat the oven to 350°F. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs in batches, without overcrowding, and brown on all sides, turning as needed, about 5 minutes. (The meatballs will not be cooked through at this point. They will continue to cook in the sauce.) Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining meatballs.
5. Add the sauce to the skillet and cook briefly over medium heat, scraping up any brown bits in the pan. Return the meatballs to the skillet and nestle them in the sauce, turning to coat. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook until the meatballs are thoroughly cooked through, about 30 minutes. During the last 5 minutes of cooking time, sprinkle the crumbled feta over the lamb.
6. Serve with couscous or rice and garnish with chopped mint or cilantro.

 

Lamb Merguez Patties and Couscous Salad

Lamb Kefta Patties
Feeling spicy? When I crave a good dose of spice and heat I head to Asia, the Middle East or North Africa (well, in my dreams). In reality, I head to my kitchen, where I fling open the spice cabinet and get cooking. I made these merguez patties recently when I was craving the heat and fragrance of North Africa: harissa, garlic, coriander, and mint. These feisty patties hit the spot – well, an airline ticket would have really hit the spot, but, hey, this was a pretty good stand in for a week night.

What really tipped these patties for me was the use of whole spices that I toasted and ground in my mortar. If you haven’t tried doing this, then you are missing a big component in the flavor department. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, and the results are well worth it. Whole spices are readily found in the spice section of your supermarket, gourmet and spice shops – even online. When you are ready to use the spices, toast the seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Then transfer to a spice grinder or a mortar, and blitz or pound the spices until fine. The flavor is light years better than pre-ground spice.

Lamb Merguez Patties and Couscous Salad

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes
Makes 18 to 20 (2-inch) patties

Couscous Salad:
1 1/2 cups couscous
1 1/4 cup water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
1 small poblano or green pepper, finely diced
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Lamb Merguez Patties:
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 pounds ground lamb
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons harissa paste
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Prepare the couscous: Place the couscous, water, lemon juice and olive oil in a large bowl. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot, and remove from the heat. Let stand until liquid is absorbed and couscous is tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork, add the remaining ingredients, and stir to combine.
2. Prepare the patties: Toast the cumin, coriander and fennel seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Grind to a fine powder in a mortar with pestle or a spice grinder.
3. Transfer the remaining patty ingredients to a large bowl. Add the toasted spices and mix until combined without overworking the meat. Form into 2-inch patties. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
4. Remove the patties from the refrigerator and let stand 10 minutes. Grill over direct high heat or pan-in fry in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat until brown and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once.  Serve with couscous salad, pita bread, Greek yogurt, and a squirt of harissa if you’re feeling extra spicy.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Apricots and Chickpeas

lamb tagine

This lamb stew is inspired by a traditional Moroccan meat and vegetable tagine and Mrouzia, a rich celebratory stew sweetened with fruit and honey. I have scaled the sweetness back, reducing the honey (or brown sugar in this case) and relying on dried apricots, which  melt into the stock while simmering to provide subtle sweetness. The meat can be rubbed with the spices and cooked straight away, but if you have the time, rub the meat the night before preparing and refrigerate. The longer the meat can sit with the spices, the deeper the flavor.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Apricots and Chickpeas

This recipe includes ras el hanout, which is an important spice blend in North African cuisine. It means “top of the shop” and includes a laundry list of aromatic and piquant spices, a combination which will vary from kitchen to kitchen, cook to cook. You can purchase ras el hanout in specialty stores or well-stocked supermarkets. Serves 6.

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2  to 3 pounds lamb shoulder or leg, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 (14-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
2 to 3 cups chicken stock
12 dried unsulphured apricots (or dried figs), halved
1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons ras el hanout
1 large carrot, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
Harissa or red chili paste, optional
Fresh cilantro sprigs

1. Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, the coriander, cumin, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl and mix to form a paste. Place the lamb in a large bowl and rub the paste all over the meat. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour or refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven or oven proof pot with lid over medium-high heat. Add the lamb in batches and brown on all sides, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Transfer the lamb to a plate or bowl and repeat with remaining lamb.
3. Pour off the fat and add 1 tablespoon oil and the onion to the same pot. Sauté the onion over medium heat until softened, about 2 minutes, stirring up the brown bits. Add the garlic, ginger, and red chili flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, 2 cups chicken stock, the apricots, cinnamon stick, ras el hanout, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.  Return the lamb and any collected juices to the pot and submerge in the stock. (Add more chicken stock to cover, if necessary.) Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and transfer to the oven and cook until the lamb is tender, about 2 hours, stirring once or twice.
4. Transfer the pot to the stovetop and stir in the carrots and chickpeas. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat until the carrots are tender and the sauce reduces and thickens to a stew consistency, about 20 minutes, skimming the fat as much as possible. Stir in the brown sugar and taste for seasoning. If more heat is desired, stir in a few teaspoons of harissa.
5. Serve warm, ladled over couscous and garnish with cilantro.

Braised Lamb and Feta Meatballs

Lamb Meatballs tastefood

Moroccan lamb kefta meets smothered Italian meatball: Two of my favorite recipes are rolled into one fragrant, warming and satisfying dish. I took my go-to lamb keftas and fluffed them up with breadcrumbs and a nugget of feta nestled in the centers before browning them in a skillet. I then popped them into the oven to braise and finish cooking in a blanket of my roasted tomato-pepper sauce. Just like Italian meatballs marinara, these lamb meatballs are very comforting, and I dare say even more tasty with the addition of North African spices and heat.

Braised Lamb Meatballs with Feta
Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds ground lamb
1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1/4 cup panko
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
2 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces feta, cut into (1 cm.) cubes

2 cups Roasted Tomato Pepper Sauce
1/4 cup crumbled feta
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or mint leaves

1. Combine all of the meatball ingredients, except the feta, in a bowl. Using your hands, gently mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed.
2. Shape the meat into 1 1/2 inch balls. Make a small indentation in the centers with your thumb and insert a feta cube, then close the meat around it. Place the meatballs on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
3. Heat the oven to 350°F. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs in batches, without overcrowding, and brown on all sides, turning as needed, about 5 minutes. (The meatballs will not be cooked through at this point. They will continue to cook in the sauce.) Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining meatballs.
4. Add the sauce to the skillet and cook briefly over medium heat, scraping up any brown bits in the pan. Return the meatballs to the skillet and nestle them in the sauce, turning to coat. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook until the meatballs are thoroughly cooked through, about 30 minutes. During the last 5 minutes of cooking time, sprinkle the crumbled feta over the lamb.
5. Serve with couscous or rice and garnish with chopped mint or cilantro.

Not Very Easter Lamb

lamb roast

Moroccan Spiced Lamb with Roasted Vegetables and Yogurt Sauce

In honor of Easter – and Spring – I share a recipe with you for grilled lamb with 2 marinade options. Normally I smear my lamb with a heady concoction of  North African spices, which is not your traditional Easter roast, mind you, but more like Easter on  holiday – a spring fling for serious bouts of wanderlust. The other marinade is more traditional with olive oil, mustard and rosemary. Either way, the method remains the same. It’s best to let the lamb marinate for as long as possible, preferably overnight – or at least for 6 hours.

Grilled Lamb with 2 Marinades:

Serves 6 to 8.

1 (3 to 4 pound) boned leg of lamb, butterflied
Salt

Dijon Marinade:
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

North African Marinade:
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh cilantro sprigs, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

Season the lamb with salt. Whisk the Dijon or the North African marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Make small incisions in the fat and meat of the lamb. Rub the marinade all over the lamb, massaging it into the meat and folds with your fingers. Place the lamb in a rimmed baking dish. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

One hour before roasting, remove the lamb from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature. If grilling, prepare the grill for direct and indirect cooking over medium heat. Grill the lamb for 10 minutes over direct heat to sear, skin-side down, turning once. Move to indirect heat and grill, covered, turning once or twice, until medium-rare (a meat thermometer inserted in thickest part will read 130 F), 20 to 30 minutes. If roasting, place lamb in a roasting pan. Roast in a preheated 425 F. oven, skin-side up, for about 30 minutes for medium-rare, turning once. Finish under a broiler, skin side up, for a few minutes to brown meat. Allow lamb to rest for 10 minutes, loosely covered with foil, before carving.

Rosemary and Porcini Crusted Lamb Loin Chops

Lamb tf

A rub of crushed dried porcini mushrooms and finely chopped rosemary creates an umami-rich crust for lamb. I use a food processor to blitz the mushrooms before continuing to chop them by hand with the rosemary, resulting in a coarse rub. A spice grinder will create a finer crust.

Lamb cru tf

Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Lamb Loin Chops

Serves 4.

8 lamb loin chops, each about 1 inch thick
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup finely ground dried porcini mushrooms
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary leaves

Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Combine 2 tablespoons oil and the garlic in a bowl and smear all over the lamb. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Thirty minutes before roasting, remove the lamb from the refrigerator. Combine the mushrooms and rosemary in a small bowl. Coat both sides of the lamb with the rub and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat in a large ovenproof skillet. Add the lamb to the pan without overcrowding. Cook until brown on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer the skillet to oven. Bake until cooked to your desired doneness, about 10 minutes for medium-rare. Remove from the oven, tent with foil, and let rest 15 minutes before serving.

Lamb, Bulgur and Chickpea Stew with Roasted Eggplant

lamb bulgur stew tastefood

The other day, for the first time I made kibbeh, the Lebanese version of kefta or croquettes. A key ingredient in kibbeh is bulgur (cracked wheat), which was a revelation to me. I was afraid the bulgur would add a mealiness to the croquettes, but in fact it remained firm, adding a satisfying bite (and crunch when pan fried) to the ground meat. I liked this combination so much I decided to try it in a stew with tomatoes, white wine and plenty of spices. The bulgur slurped up the liquid producing a thick and dense ragout. While it could easily have been served in bowls as a hearty stew, I spooned it over roasted eggplant to lighten it up a bit. The results resembled a deconstructed dolma or vegetable stuffed with ground meat and grains, typically served in Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine. All that was needed was a bit of crumbled feta and fresh mint to freshen up this lovely dish, and I know I’ll be making it again.

Lamb, Bulgur and Chickpea Stew with Roasted Eggplant

Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound ground lamb
1/2 cup bulgur
1 cup white wine
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juices
1 cup chicken stock or water
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzos) drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped green cabbage

1 medium eggplant, sliced crosswise 3/8-inch thick
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Crumbled feta cheese
Fresh mint leaves, torn

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion, garlic and lamb. Cook until the onion softens and the lamb browns, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring up any brown bits with a wooden spoon. Add the tomatoes, stock, bulgur, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, and coriander. Simmer, partially covered, until the bulgur is tender, about 20 minutes. The stew will have thickened at this point. If desired, add more water or stock to thin to desired consistency. Add the salt and black pepper and taste for seasoning. Stir in the chickpeas and cabbage and cook over medium-low heat until the cabbage is wilted, 10 to 12 minutes.

While the stew is simmering, arrange the eggplant slices in one layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush on both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Broil on the top rack of the oven until golden brown on both sides, turning once.

To serve, spoon the ragout over the eggplant. Sprinkle with feta and garnish with mint. Serve warm.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Figs and Chickpeas

It’s the time of year when I have an urge to travel. Call it cabin fever, restlessness, or simply the craving to be somewhere different, where it’s warm, spicy and balmy. The sights, smells and sounds of new cultures are revitalizing. Time slows down, and the smallest details are observed and savored  amidst a kaleidescope of impressions. It just so happens that this is also the time of year when my urge to travel collides with real life. It’s the middle of the school year, I have work deadlines, and the contents of my piggy bank were spent at Christmas. So I improvise, and my travels occur in the kitchen, where I replace my passport with the jars in my spice drawer and concoct recipes inspired by the exotic flavors, heat and aromas of far flung destinations.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Chickpeas and Figs

The secret ingredient in this North African inspired stew is ras el hanout. Ras el hanout is a  spice blend which may include upwards of 50 spices, including cinnamon, cardamom, clove, turmeric and cayenne. The name, translated, means head of the shop, meaning the best on offer. Like many spice blends, there is no one way to make it, and variations exist from home to home, merchant to merchant. You can find ras el hanout in the spice section of your supermarket or specialty stores. If you cannot locate it, then I encourage you to try to make your own version. It’s easy to do, and I’ve included a recipe below.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Chickpeas and Figs

Serves 6 to 8.

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground paprika
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2  to  3 pounds lamb shoulder or leg, cut in 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 (14 ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
2 cups chicken stock
12 dried Calimyrna or Turkish figs, halved
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons ras el hanout (recipe below)
1 (14 ounce) can chickpeas, drained
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Harissa or red chili paste
Fresh cilantro sprigs

Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, the coriander, cumin, paprika, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl. Mix to form a paste. Place the lamb in a large bowl and rub the paste all over the meat. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour or refrigerate covered for up to 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven or oven proof pot with lid over medium-high heat. Add the lamb in batches and brown on all sides, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Transfer the lamb to a plate or bowl.
Add the onion and carrot to the same pot. Saute until softened, about 2 minutes, stirring up any brown bits. Add the garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, figs, cinnamon stick, ras el hanout, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper.  Return the lamb and any collected juices to the pot, submerging it in the stock. (Add additional chicken stock to cover, if necessary.) Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover pot. Transfer to oven and bake until lamb is falling apart tender, about 2 hours.
Transfer pot to stove. Remove lamb and vegetables with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Bring stock to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil uncovered until sauce is reduced by about half and thickened, skimming any fat.  Stir in the chickpeas and taste to check for seasoning. If necessary add a tablespoon of brown sugar to the stock. Return the lamb and vegetables to the pot. Serve warm spooned over couscous. Pass bowls of harissa and fresh cilantro around the table as condiments.

Ras El Hanout
adapted from The Food of Morocco by Tess Mallos

Be sure to use very fresh spices, or grind the whole dried spices.

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons ground coriander
3 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons allspice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

Combine all the spices together. Store in a glass jar in a cool, dark place.
(Recipe may be halved.)